Blurred Vision

“As soon as questions of will or decision or reason or choice of action arise, human science is at a loss.”
–Noam Chomsky
The last couple of weeks have been a blur, as the action at the Full Tilt offices has escalated in order to keep up with the performances of our players at the World Series. As of Wednesday, the 27 Full Tilt Pros had won 11.27% of the total prize pool, even though they represent less than half a percent of the total number of entries. The final tables have been dominated by well-known pros this year, and my initial guess at the size of the advantage for professionals may have been understated. More on that in a future post.
Anyway, I’ve been working so much that my time at the tables has been extremely limited. I did, however, make it to Vegas last weekend for another taste of WSOP insanity. Here are some quick highlights, which I’d be happy to elaborate on if anyone would like to hear more:

  • Playing $20-$40 with a “rock” (thanks to -EV for the explanation):
    “The must-straddle element is carried out thusly: one big bet worth of chips is wrapped up in rubber bands, or designated in some other fashion and called “the ROCK.” Whoever has the ROCK is required to straddle when they’re UTG, using the rock as their bet. The ROCK goes into the pot and whoever wins that pot then must straddle when they’re UTG. Of course additional straddles and/or blind caps are fully encouraged.”
    I’m all for high-variance games, but there were 3 players at this table under 25, and needless to say, they were very good. I soon ended up swimming for calmer waters, but at least I can say I played with a rock.
  • Being introduced to John Juanda as an “excellent limit player,” to which he responded “Oh, you mean not like me?”
  • Pumping up a manic, short-stacked final-table Phil Gordon after seeing the chip leader win a three-way all in with 99 (sucking out on JJ and QQ). Unfortunately, Phil’s bracelet will have to wait a bit longer.
  • Hanging with the blogger contingent: a half-insane Pauly running around after 3 weeks of non-stop coverage, Otis at the start of his Vegas run crushing the $10-$20 game, “Action” Steve Hall snapping pictures of any poker player in a skirt, and smooth Amy Calistri taking it all in and prowling around looking for her next story.

It’s tough to explain the environment there, although if they ever created a “Gambling Summer Camp,” it would probably resemble the scene at the Rio. Of course, I ended up getting whacked with the wrong end of the variance stick, and several bad beats sent me home with a lot of great experiences but a slightly diminished bankroll.
The only other live poker I’ve played in the past two weeks has been on the past two Friday nights, where several poker bloggers gathered for the first two sessions of the LA POKER BLOGGERS HOME GAME. That’s right, yours truly has finally organized a home game for the local poker junkies, and the action proved to be as furious as one would expect from the heavyweight lineup:
FHWRDH: fellow Full Tilter and tough tournament player, you don’t want to be calling his raises without strong cards and a plan
FactGirl: FHWRDH’s partner in crime, not afraid to gamble
Bill Rini: WPBT winner’s table presence inspires fear in potential callers
The Film Geek: The kid never takes a hand off, and has the potential to be a superb tournament player when he finally grows his bankroll
Absinthe: thoughtful writer always seems to save his chips for a better spot, and always seems to find it when it matters
Chris Danek: fellow full tilter and tournament specialist, super-competitive and hard to put on a hand.
LKim: organizer of the infamous LKim homegame, LKim plays a near-maniacal style and bludgeons people with his stack when he manages to accumulate chips early.
Mrs. Double: great instincts, no fear, and unburdened by poker books, you can’t put this Swede on a hand and her reputation as an “action” player makes her a tough opponent.
I’m anxiously awaiting the arrival of StudioGlyphic, who’s off exploring a continent Far East of here, and Grubby, who’s off exploring the slot machines not so far east of here.
The game is low stakes, and was started primarily as an excuse to learn non-holdem games and hang out with people I like and respect. So far I’ve learned a bit about stud-hi lo, but the biggest lesson I’ve learned comes from Mrs. Double, who has completely dominated the two no-limit holdem tournaments concluding each session. Her domination was so complete that she knocked out 13 of the 15 players in the two games combined, taking first last night and second in the first game.
So, how does a player who’s never read a poker book and has no knowledge of odds and starting hands guidelines dominate a group of players who are versed in poker strategy? Luck is a huge factor of course, but I think two major factors in her play have been the primary reason for her domination:
Willingness to Gamble: by playing without fear and moving a lot of chips around, tournament players create action on their good hands, and a chance to double up when they’re drawing. The old saying, “You have to give action to get action” is true especially against observant, skilled players, so the action player ends up facing tough calls against players who want to gamble with their marginal hands. If the action player holds some cards, they will collect a lot more chips than a tight player (see GUS HANSEN for more).
Simplifying the game: although odds and knowledge of hand-strength relative to stack size is important, tournament no-limit hold em is really a simple game. The game can almost be reduced to two simple questions: Do I have a better hand than my opponent? and Will my opponent call a big bet? If you can answer these two questions throughout the tournament (and get lucky a couple times), all the knowledge about pot odds and hand strength is relatively unimportant.
Of course, I believe the “delta theory” also explains much of Mrs. Double’s success: in a group of opponents who play similarly, the player who plays “the most differently” often has the biggest advantage. Mrs. Double’s unconventional style definitely differentiates her from the crowd of poker bloggers, and therefore gives her an advantage.
Of course, a run of great luck and excellent cards is probably the most important component of her success. But I’m a little biased, and it’s nice to think that superb card sense and great play were the real reason for the domination.
Check out Bill’s blog and Absinthe for a more detailed writeup of the game.
I’ve been extremely lucky throughout my life, and I’ve never been one to enjoy the “little things” in life. I’d like to think the extremely saddening events chronicled by a couple of fellow poker bloggers have helped me to put things in perspective and take joy in the small moments chronicled above. But my thoughts and my heart have gone out to Iggy and especially to Jason, who are dealing with things that seem impossible to accept. The best lesson poker has taught me is that all we can do is play the hand we’re dealt the best we can.

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